It may come as news to many, but toward the end of last year, I went on my first sabbatical- ever! In the days and weeks before my leave, I remember feeling like it was time to retire. I kept thinking, “I’m too old and can’t do this anymore.” Once my sabbatical started, it took me at least one month, if not two, to acknowledge how being tired affected my life and work. During the third month, I felt a deep physical shift in my energy and, more importantly, my mindset. Growing up in a working-class family, I believed rest was an unaffordable luxury, a reward you could only earn when you were perfect. As a result of this belief, I avoided taking vacations and prioritizing rest during my 45-year career. I remember being struck by a colleague’s email signature. “Remember, rest is not earned, it is a right.” But all that changed during my leave.
My sabbatical was a gift from the Durfee Foundation, the PSR-LA board, the incredible PSR-LA staff, and, of course, my family and friends. Thanks to this sabbatical, I had the opportunity to slow down, take care of myself, and reflect on my own history of working in social justice. While away, I wrote and reflected on how the distinct voice of organized health professionals can shine the light on community-driven solutions that address the root causes of pollution, poverty, and racism that shape our physical and mental health. These reflections helped me reconnect with the love and joy I have for the work we do at PSR-LA. I also reconnected with who I am beyond work, a lover of fashion, pop culture, and Jane Austen. On top of this, I discovered new interests- I was never athletic, but during this sabbatical, I attended a one-month fitness camp! Something I am still trying to make a daily practice.
Of course, upon my return, there is still an oil industry fully committed to protecting its profit- planet and people be damned. They threaten our hard-fought legislative victories that would have created health protection zones around oil drilling sites. California’s reckless rush to monetize and commodify carbon via carbon capture and sequestration schemes is a grave threat to frontline communities.
Still, it offers us the opportunity to articulate a vision of a restorative and care-based economy. We cannot extract more carbon to end the carbon economy, we cannot police our way into safer communities, and we cannot make the planet safe with nuclear weapons. So while these battles remain, I feel different in ways that are both easy and hard to describe. I am rested, with some good fundamental self-care practices that are becoming habits. The harder-to-describe ones are a deeper sense of clarity, inner calm, and joy. I feel full of promise because I am better at living in the moment, and rest and restoration gave me back some of the joy I was losing.
Now, back in the swing of things, I am still asking how we can move closer to a restorative, health-affirming economy while simultaneously being forced to fight off damaging oil industry-driven false promises of a carbon-free future powered by more carbon and their ability to control our political system. But, I’m putting my sabbatical’s biggest lesson into practice- slow down to speed up, you don’t have to fight at every table, and there is no replacement for real rest and reflection. Taking care of ourselves is essential if we are to bend the arc of history toward justice.
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